Skip links


Ripping Off the Mask of Imposter Syndrome

Published on September 27, 2019, at 3:00 p.m.
by Zoie Mestayer.

So you’ve landed your first post-grad job. You feel proud, relieved. Your hard work has finally paid off, but soon your feelings change. You wonder — how did this happen? Am I even qualified? How long until they realize that they made a mistake?

Many people experience this so-called “imposter syndrome.” As evidenced by its name, imposter syndrome is the idea that you are an “imposter” in your place of work — that your success is merely a result of luck and not because of talent or qualifications. According to a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Science, an estimated 70% of people experience this psychological phenomenon at some point in their careers.

Researchers originally thought that imposter syndrome primarily affected women, but people of all ethnicities, genders and socioeconomic classes have equally reported this phenomenon. Its victims experience a lack of confidence in their skills and a tendency to downplay their achievements.

Unfortunately, the field of public relations is not immune to this phenomenon; in fact, we may be the perfect industry for imposter syndrome to flourish — especially for recent graduates. Public relations professionals are often motivated perfectionists who seem to have it all. This stereotype, while positive, can set an unrealistic standard of performance for everyone working in the industry. If people believe that they don’t meet this expectation, it can cause them to lose confidence in their work, even if they are performing well.

Additionally, many PR professionals start working straight out of college, which means they are relatively young and inexperienced compared to others in the field. University PR faculty members stress the importance of experience prior to applying to jobs, so much so that it’s difficult to feel completely prepared, even when you do have experience. Because the industry is so competitive, those who land jobs often feel undeserving. Any of these factors alone are enough to cause someone to develop imposter syndrome, and the existence of two or even three of them together could be disastrous.

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

The irony of imposter syndrome is that it is often the highest achievers that experience it the most. Individuals in the field are commonly accustomed to succeeding and care deeply about their work performance, which can manifest into anxiety about one’s qualifications or sense of belonging. In an industry like PR, where so many employees are motivated and career-focused, imposter syndrome can run rampant.

That said, there are several things you should keep in mind to help guard your psyche from imposter syndrome.

Remember how you got here.
Your success is not an accident. You studied, worked and made connections — all of which helped you land the position that you have today. Don’t sell yourself short.

Remember that everyone has been where you are.
No one becomes VP of communications right out of college. It’s normal to be the designated coffee-grabbing intern when you’re just starting out.

Identify the root of your imposter syndrome.
Consider the five types of imposter syndrome and relate them to your experiences. Dr. Valerie Young defined these in her book, “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women.”

Fake it ’til you make it.
Of course, this is easier said than done. But if you tell yourself you deserve success enough times, eventually you’ll believe it.

Imposter syndrome can sneak up on you. Small insecurities can grow into perceived weaknesses that aren’t actually there. Failure to own your success can have disastrous consequences.

While it may seem relatively harmless, imposter syndrome can seriously inhibit your capacity to advance in your field because you might be less likely to ask for raises or pursue promotions. Next time you catch yourself downplaying your achievements or being a little too humble, stop and pay yourself a compliment. You’ve earned it.

Return to top of page